Men hvor ‘er vi ? (But where are we)
This city is a mirage. The birds of passage devour all the glitter of the road. The earth trembles under the wheels of the 4X4. It rains drops of frost, a rain tinkles on the pavements.
Lichen moss grows here and there. I didn’t notice when the street had been left abandoned. An elk runs in front of me, blocking the way to my car. I pile up. The clouds seem exhausted. Or are they just a reflection of my disastrous state?
Det sn∅r nå `igjen (there goes the snow again)!
The streets are soaked with mud. The stores are closing their shutters, it must be late already. I hung out at the office, Solveig wanted me to look at her pleated skirt. She didn’t say exactly that, but… She kept walking back and forth to my formica table. I was tapping away with my pencil, thinking about the cold cuts I was going to scarf down tonight. This job… another mistake, and I would have been better off staying with my mother for a few more months.
My apartment is located in the chic district of Bjørvika. I walk along Snøhetta Avenue, past the Norwegian Parliament. The river Alna is nicely dressed with light this evening, the street lamps make a brilliant cape to it. I look into the fog that has infiltrated the city. The snow has stopped. It will undoubtedly start again this night. The sky is already beginning to fade. It has taken on gray-brown and pink hues. I sigh and wipe my tortoise shell Clubround Men’s Ray-Bans. My lips are dry. I turn on the car radio.
Whitney Houston’s voice drifts through my open window:
Stay in my arms if you dare
Or must I imagine you there
Don’t walk away from me
I have nothing, nothing, nothing
If I don’t have you, you, you, you, you
The frost has covered most of the trees. Some seem to tremble in the twilight, shaking their highest branches? Am I dreaming? It seemed to me that a black dog stood up and took the appearance of an old man. I rub my eyes, I’m probably a little off. Whitney sings softer, I turn down the volume, and I think about the love of my life slipping through my fingers.
My name is Torstein, I’m single, I think I’ve always been single, even when I almost got married a few times, even when a girl came over to my apartment and piled her boxes on top of mine. I’m in love with my childhood friend, but Astrid thinks I’m crazy and boring, she lives in Oslo, but I see her less and less. She works a lot. Her parents are horrible intransigent doctors, they warned her many times against me.
The only breath in the middle of all these days that look the same is when I receive a message from Astrid. We don’t see each other much anymore, she is always working, at least that’s what she says. She is a lawyer in a big firm in Oslo which deals with, I think, criminal law something like that; she is such a brilliant girl I can’t help admiring her, even thinking about her like that, prostrate all alone in my car, my eyes are shining like two motorcycle headlights, it’s crazy what love can do to you.
These days Astrid is all the more taken because she won her last case, she was awarded a medal for that, the eloquence medal or something like that. I was really sad when I heard about it on social networks, because my job is not very good, I’ve been a paper-pusher for two months, I always lose my place because of my bloody character.
And tonight in the unbearable heat of the dark night, while I think that Astrid will never love me because I’m a louse, I see an object falling in front of my car. I slam the door, the frozen wind rushes into my neck; I am shaking, I look like a madman I am in a red and black checked Armani shirt in the street. The sky is a bit milky, it starts to rain again, I bend down and pick up the rectangular shape of an object that turns out to be a partly torn book.
Once the car is parked on my street under the snow, the book under my arm, I go back to my house. Before I could reach my door, the neighbor across the street opens her door on the fly. She wears a horrible purple nightie, a beige blouse with small blue flowers. Her red hair, colored in the salon and braided, is pulled up on her neck with a huge black clip. Her big jaw twitches when she smiles at me, a goat’s smile. She half-opens her vicious little lips and I see her frown, she must be wondering why her failed neighbor is coming home so late. I hurriedly make a half-polite head movement to greet her, then I pull my head and then my whole body inside the apartment. I have just the time to hear this old crone stammering to her husband « han drikker for mye » (he drinks too much) me who almost never drinks except yesterday and maybe the day before when I received Astrid’s message telling me that she was now a celebrity and therefore out of my reach.
I sit down at my table and the loneliness falls on me like a slap. I remember my father and his slap, and it seems to me that at this moment, I would rather be beaten like a plaster than alone in this apartment above my means that my mother pays for. I open the window, so much the worse if the snow invites itself on the carpet, I need fresh air. Suddenly, I remember that I picked up a piece of trash on the street, which turned out to be a book, so I consult my loot and my heart lifts in my chest.
It is a textbook, a course outing for writing detective stories. I think of Astrid, then the wind rushing through the room, then I look at the light bulb that threatens to go out and has been sizzling since I got home. I see myself in a dark blue suit at a podium, promoting a book that could be called « Death and Blood in Oslo: Crime is in the City », or « Flood of Blood on Snow », something like that. In the manner of a great writer, I pass a pen that was lying on the table between two breadcrumbs on my lips. I realize that I have to buy some lip balm, that I have to take care of myself, if I want to conquer the heart of a pretty girl (Astrid being an unattainable star).
I have nothing else to do, so I go through the manual, but it falls quickly from my hands. I go to bed without having made any more progress on my detective story project. I know I forgot to close the living room window and that the storm is going to have a field day, but I fall into bed, close my fists; the book lies half-open on the military-green quilted cover, and I fall asleep like an angel.
Someone drums on my door, I wake up in a foul mood the next day. The book has fallen on the floor, the living room carpet is a small frozen pool. It’s my mother, she says to me, swallowing the syllables:
Hva er `klokken (what time is it?)
To which I answer her that I know I am late for work. I’m going to be a great writer anyway. She gives me a little tap on the chin, then steps back. The neighbor opens her door, greets my mother obsequiously and doesn’t bother to listen to the rest of our conversation:
vanlig erdu ikke ` ferdig (And as usual you are not ready).
I bring my mother into the living room, hear her stammering a few surly comments about the carpet and the open window, which she hurriedly closes, and rush into my bathroom.
I am naked as a worm under a curtain of burning water. Astrid’s face is still screwed up in my chest, it appears on the mirror behind me, on the white marble of the shower in front of me. I think about the most efficient way to put my mother out.
Once in front of her, I fail to dismiss her, so I listen to her complain that she’s called me a mere ten times. I sigh three times, she sighs five, she finally leaves, forgetting her blue and yellow square blouse.
I decide to finish my reading of the day before, so much for the work, one lost ten found. Except that the country is in a delicate situation as far as employment is concerned these days and that I might have to beg my mother again. Frigorated by this prospect, I turn on my computer and start typing the beginning of my detective novel; I write about two and a half lines, then satisfied, I run my tongue over my lips.
Not to overdo it, I decide to take a break, I go to the pharmacy and buy a lip balm for women. The packaging is spartan but not the price. I settle, shrug my shoulders, and decide to go for a walk in Oslo to find inspiration.
The sky is low, while passing in front of the Opera of the city, I see a policeman putting a ticket to a rather elegant car, the owner is beside the cop and seems desperate to be heard. I look at the dark clouds that do not announce anything good, and my heart tightens: I feel solidarity with this brave policeman, he and I share the same hatred from our people. I hesitate to go and shake his hand, to tell him that I understand his hard work, that he and I are working against crime in the capital of Norway. But I don’t go, because after all I have only written two lines, it’s too little. But I resolve from now on to avoid parking like a smuggler in any way, which I did a little too often until now.
I walk with my eyes riveted in my thoughts, trying to decide on a name for my criminal. What if the criminal was the hero of my novel? I look up, the wind burning my eyelids a little. There is a café with lit garlands in front of me. I know the small brunette who comes to meet me, she is a friend of Astrid, we kiss a little too long for my taste then she finally detaches herself from her venomous embrace
— Astrid is with you, I ask her.
She frowns. Her mouth is painted in a shade which approaches the blackcurrant, but of the too ripe fruit, and I wonder who is her supplier of make-up. I also think I could see her in an adult rated movie, but here she is saying:
—She’s in the coffee shop, go see her.
My heart leaps in my chest, I have all the symptoms of anxiety and passion. My eyes moisten, my blood flow intensifies, I am finally going to see the one who lights up my nights among all, but at this moment I see a figure I know coming towards me and greeting me.
I have the impression that Astrid’s enthusiasm for our meeting decreases when I tell her that I let go of my new job. A kind of fine and unstable snow begins to powder our cheeks, I accompany the two friends in the café. I can’t decide between the different whiskies, finally I opt for a gin, the writers’ drink, as I suddenly remember that my status has changed.
Like a baker, I spread my novel story with a thick jam of lies. Astrid doesn’t seem that impressed, but never mind, I even invent the name of the sequel to my novel, volumes two and three, which the publisher will be in such a hurry to buy. She leaves first, I haven’t finished my drink yet, I’d cry if she left and I can’t speak anymore when she wishes me good luck. I stand in the coffee shop with my eyes immersed in the gin, squeezing my lemon like a murderer squeezes a child’s skull.
When I get home, I find myself vain, dumb, and this time, the door that opens in front of me is not the neighbor’s across the street, but the one of another neighbor, even older and that I almost never see. She comes out on her doorstep wrapped like a bird of prey in a thick black cape with a hood, which gives her a comical look, then she grabs my arm; she drags me into her living room, I can’t back out, the old woman is too powerful, her eyes too feverish and too evil.
Vær så snill å hjelpe meg (be kind to help me), she says, pushing a kvaefjordkake towards me, that kind of sponge cake, topped with meringue and almonds, and garnished with vanilla cream that one sees everywhere. She put some strawberries cut in small pieces in a cup. The television is playing a mass, I wonder if the old lady believes in God, after all it is none of my business. I look at my watch anyway while she slips away to make coffee. I plan to spend the evening on my novel and the old lady distracts me from my ambitions.
I look around while she’s not there, not a book, she’s certainly not the one I’ll be celebrating my literary glory with once my book is published. I sigh. Astrid seemed so distant earlier. I see her golden curls in the window frame, before realizing that it is only the shy reflection of the sun on the glass. I smile at the love I feel for her. Yes, everything will be fine, it’s only a matter of days before she realizes that we are made for each other. Everything will be all right, because everything must go according to plan, I must write this horrible crime, spilling blood like ink. But at this moment, when for the first time in a week, my hopes of seeing Astrid on my arm laughing one day were increasing, the old woman comes back into the room. She had time to change and had put on a dark purple shirt with laces on the sleeves. She smiled at me, uncovering a black tooth, and said:
— Vær så snill å hjelpe meg (be kind to help me). This is the neighbor. She is missing. You have to help me find out what happened to her.
The service went on for a long time before I decided to take the copper spoon out of my mouth, leave the sponge cake behind and look at my neighbor. So, the goat « disappeared », and I was entrusted with the investigation of its kidnapping or sequestration?
Being a new writer, and author of detective novels, this promotion in the neighborhood was very much to my liking. I asked my neighbor for more information, after which I stretched like a lousy cat and went back to my apartment purring with joy. Indeed, my neighbor’s door does not open when I walk in. I waited a fraction of a second. What could have happened to her? Instead of writing down what could have been the next masterpiece of Norwegian literature, I meditated while looking at the tree leaves stuck by the rain to my dirty window. Tomorrow, I will need all my energy to write a good story.
When I woke up, the snow had covered most of Oslo. My coffee maker needed to be descaled, it was taking forever to drip the precious liquid, and I needed it too much, I was tired like a lifeguard after five drownings. What could have happened to my neighbor? Reflecting on the irony of my situation (being now a young crime writer as well as an investigator without a badge), I bit into a rusk spread with marmalade. I almost choked on the rusk, when I realized where I had gone wrong. I had taken my neighbor’s word for it. But maybe our common neighbor hadn’t really vanished? Certain that I was on to something fabulous, I leapt to my feet, forgot about the coffee and quickly put on my overcoat.
As I left my apartment, I noticed that my phone had rung three times. My heart leapt in my chest when Astrid’s number came up. But I had to prove myself worthy of her, and if I couldn’t string together three sentences from a novel, I could at least solve one of the most complicated investigations in Oslo. I passed a fish shop and the shopkeeper glared at me. I noticed that I hadn’t taken the time to shave and I prayed not to run into Astrid unexpectedly. A few meters away, an old dirty dog was sniffing in a garbage can. I felt pity for the animal, recognizing him as a fellow looser, and I threw him a vanilla candy that I kept in my pocket since Methuselah.
Where to start my search? Where can old neighbors go in need of an adventure? Wondering if Mrs. Norge, this neighbor, was a nun, I thought about the presence of a monastery in the area. But it seemed unlikely to me that she was a nun, her attire rather indicated that she supported the Devil in his activities. Since I lacked evidence, I decided to pay a little visit to her apartment. I returned to my building. On tiptoe, with an expired credit card, I managed to crack open her door. I was surprised to see no less than… ten cats in the apartment. Certainly, Mrs. Norge couldn’t have gone far. If she liked so much these animals that smelled like dead donkeys and were now proudly wandering between my pant legs, she would come back. But when?
On the table in her living room, I saw a photograph. A young man, whom I recognized as one of the most prominent actors in Oslo. I heard a noise and froze in place, but it was just another neighbor going upstairs to do her shopping. I hesitated for a moment. Should I really continue my investigation? It was obvious that I would succeed in discovering the truth, but Astrid had just called me and… The temptation was too strong, I called back the woman of my dreams trembling.
— No, I didn’t call you ?
Astrid pretended she had made a wrong number. I let myself fall in the soft armchair of the missing woman, and thought about the inconsistencies of human relationships. Thus, I moved heaven and earth for the love of a woman, and this ungrateful angel was not able to admit that she had not been able to resist the infernal temptation to call me. I gritted my teeth, about to abandon my investigation, when the sound of a key being passed in the lock recovered me from my emotions. I hid behind a cupboard and watched the scene before me. Mrs. Norge was dragging the young actor from the photograph onto the bed. I was horrified, and tiptoed down the hallway, then ran out of breath. In any case, my investigation was well over… Mrs. Norge had certainly spent a few days with her lover.
I walked with my back bent to the café where I had met Astrid earlier in the day, sighing, and took a notebook out of my pocket. I scribbled a few lines in it, which looked, I think, like a poem. Then, resolving not to pay for the coffee I had just drunk in a hurry, I left the poem as payment on the table and left.
Someone, somewhere, will find this poem. He will read there, in clumsy verses, my feeling for Astrid. The sky will not have moved, the clouds will pass by at the same speed, but I will be far away, to work out an umpteenth fantastic plan to seduce the woman I love. I’ll walk with my arms crossed, until old age drags me into its shadow, and I’ll think as much as my romantic brain will allow about my next venture. If I have to make a movie and hire every bandit in Oslo for it, I will. I have already succeeded in finding a missing person, and in writing a poem that may one day be on the lips of every Norwegian schoolboy. No, if I have to start making disastrous plans again, I will. There is nothing more beautiful than to make a fool of yourself in order to realize a dream.